Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Fraternal Reunion, Soakum Festival, Rug Yarn & Loom, New Arrivals

Seeing Double?  No, not really.  Meet Apollo (in front).  He is actually Cheetah's littermate and has a very similar personality.  When I told my friends who had given me Cheetah almost 6 years ago about Cheetah's sad diagnoses, they offered to give me another Pyr to help him out and keep him company in his last weeks or months or however long.  So, Apollo came to live with us on Monday.  They are working out their relationship and seem to be getting along as brothers typically do.  Apollo will in time come to mean as much to us in his own way as Cheetah has meant.  Welcome to Straightfork, Apollo!

One of my favorite local fall festivals is the Soakum Festival, which is in Caldwell Ohio the last weekend in September.  Caldwell was about a 1 day coach ride from Marietta in the old days and so travelers by stage coach were required to overnight there.  The name "Soakum" supposedly came from highly inflated liquor prices due to the fact that travelers were at the mercy of the local proprietors and so "Soakum" became the town's nick name.

The Soakum Festival is meant to depict life in the 1800's, so most of the displays and demonstrators are dressed in period costume and using authentic tools of trade of those days.  My spinning guild always demonstrates at this festival and we sit on the front porch of a log cabin which was disassembled and moved to the site on the fairgrounds and is now set up as it would have been when it was actually lived in over 100 years ago.  It is a great time for us to sit and chat and tell festival attendees about spinning.  And of course, since it is a festival, there is lots of food to be tried!   This is me above with Bill, another of our guild members.
And to the left, Sally, JoAnn, Bill and Don (who is spinning with a drop spindle).  Aren't we cute in our costumes?  
Other great demonstrations at this year's  festival included blacksmithing, broom-making, cider-pressing, lard-rendering, leather-making (this demonstrator and his wife spent most of the weekend scraping a moose-hide with hand-held tools), and gold-panning, just to name a few.  It's just a very well-done festival.  I always enjoy attending it.

On Monday, prior to picking up Apollo, I drove up to Apple Creek Ohio, which is in Ohio's Amish country, and picked up my yarns from Morningstar Fiber Mill.  This is a small mill which specializes in processing alpaca.  I had dropped off about 70 pounds of fiber with them at the Great Lakes Fiber Festival in May, 60 pounds for rug yarn and 10 for knitting yarn.  Rug yarn is made with the "seconds" or coarser fiber and the knitting yarn is made with the "prime" fiber or the softest, nicest part of the fleece.  

The rug yarn is actually twisted round a "core" of twine, to give it extra strength and durability.  It also gives it bulk.  I am very pleased with the job they did with it.  I sent black, grey, browns and white and they did some solid color "bumps" and some multi-colored.  Each bump is about 150 yards of yarn and weighs about 3.5 pounds.  I can hardly wait to start weaving!  My loom still needs some work, although I have it cleaned up and mostly assembled.  It is old, but sturdy and functional.  It is in the spare room at our office, so maybe I can even get Sam to weave a rug or two!

My knitting yarn is just a natural white 2 ply sport weight and I will be dyeing some of it and selling and knitting with some of it.  It is very nice, but that's what I expected since I sent in very nice fleeces.

We have had 2 new arrivals this week.  On Monday, one of my boarder's alpacas, Misty gave birth to a gorgeous 20 pound male cria sired by our black herdsire, Oscuro.  Misty is grey and this boy seems to have coloring from both parents.  He's a looker!

Then, yesterday (Wednesday) while I was at work, Vanilla Latte had a little fawn female cria sired by Eclipse.  We've had a lot of Eclipse crias this fall and most are female.  Good for him!

So I got some spinning done Sunday afternoon and I have had a little knitting time, but darn little.  I did block the sleeve for my sweater I was afraid I was going to have to rip out and re-do and found that it is just about perfect, so once I finish the mitten I am working on (#2 of 2), I will start the second sleeve of my cabled alpaca sweater and hopefully have it done by the time the weather warrants alpaca attire.

I have a busy couple days coming up.  Maybe next week I will tell you about the truckload of cats I have to drive to Wheeling WV tomorrow.  Yes, I said a truckload of cats!  Check back next week!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Bittersweet Week

Ginger (our other Australian Shepherd) knows how to enjoy a warm fall afternoon.  She is somewhere between 15 and 18 years old and I brought her home from the shelter almost 3 years ago.  Her golden years have been enjoyed by all of us (although Rowdy still says he wanted a puppy, not an old dog).

When last I wrote we had just had 2 crias born on the farm.  The first was from a black female, Brooklynn and she had a beautiful black female sired by our black herdsire (stud) Oscuro.  Here they are almost a week later,  both are doing well.

As I was writing last week's post, Sam called to tell me Carmell had delivered a female cria.  Carmell was sold a few years back and we purchased her back when the buyers claimed an inability to keep her pregnant.  So we brought her home and we bred her and put her on a progesterone supplement, injected every 2 weeks.  We stopped the injections about a month before she was due and when she went into labor, she would not dilate.  Her cria was delivered by my vet and it was a very painful, brutal birth.  Carmell has always had kind of a high strung personality anyway and she totally rejected the cria.  She refused to even look at her.  Personally, I did not blame her.  Anyway, long story short, after a few days of trying desperately to get mama and baby to hook up, we gave up and decided we had a bottle baby on our hands.  But, baby had other ideas and began refusing the bottle and snitching milk from other moms any time she could get a chance.  The problem was, she was just not getting enough nutrition with a suck here and a slurp there and sadly, we eventually lost her.  
I decided to give Carmell another chance and re-bred her about 5 months after her traumatic birth.  No progesterone this time.  If she could not carry to term without it, so be it.  So understandably, I was apprehensive when she delivered her second cria last week.  I was at work, so Sam was home to supervise and fortunately the birth was unassisted and normal.  But, was Carmell going to accept the cria?  This was the question of the month.  How is she acting, I ask Sam on the phone.  She is paying attention to the cria, she is humming and clucking to it, which is what alpaca moms do to get their cria to recognize their voice.  But it seems she is walking away from the cria when it tries to nurse.  This is not a good sign.

  The newborn cria has a very strong instinct to look up under a dark place for its source of sustenance.  So a familiar sight is a little cria blundering around underneath mom's front end, rear end and everywhere in between with its little pink tongue flicking in and out as it searches for a teat.  The mother instinctually stands stock still and some will even stretch their rear legs back to make access to the udder easier for the cria.  This is always something wonderful to watch.  No matter how often I observe it, I continue to be amazed at how nature provides these brand new creatures with what they need to survive.  This was not happening with Carmell.  While she was allowing the cria to nuzzle up to her and look around for the teat, as soon as the cria got close to the mark, Carmell would shift her rear end or walk away.  So Sam and I decided we needed to intervene, which involved Sam holding Carmell as still as possible, while I try to put cria up to the udder and get her to latch on.  Sometimes all it takes is for the cria to start to suck and you can almost see a light bulb go off in the new mother's head.....oh, this is what is supposed to happen.  This is not an easy task.  A 150 alpaca can put up quite a fight when she feels threatened, which she does when 2 humans grab her and restrain her.  Our next step is to confine the 2 together in a small pen in the barn for the night and leave a light on.  But we also have to try to get nourishment into the cria.  It is important that they get the first milk, or colostrum, which carries the mother's antibodies.   We had some colostrum that we could bottle feed, so that was also in order.  Baby took a full 2 oz of this at about 10 pm.   Sam said she refused the bottle at 1 am when he went out and she refused again at 6 am when I went out.  I also milked some colostrum out of Carmell, which is no easy task, but I noted that she was calming down, despite being confined, which alpacas generally do not like.  The cria seemed active so I was hoping maybe things were turing around.  Newborn crias get droopy and depressed very quickly if they are not eating.  When I went out again around 10 am, I got to the barn door and noticed that the cria was up under mom's front end and mom was standing calmly like she should, so I paused to just watch before entering.  Sure enough, within a couple minutes, the cria found the "spigots" and latched on and began to suck while Carmell stood like a pro.  I don't think I mentioned it was raining, but I took my bottle and I danced across the bridge and all the way back to the house in the pouring rain!  Mama and baby are doing great.

 We have been in the alpaca business for 11 years and unfortunately sometimes we have had to take back alpacas we had sold.  Today's economy has made that necessary once again and I went Monday and brought home 3 alpacas we had sold and their 2 female crias.  So I have some nice girls up for sale for "repo" prices.   

Our garage now has a cement floor!  It is still nice and clean since we are letting it cure for several days before putting any cars in it.  The driveway still needs a bit of work.  It will be so nice not to step out of the car into a puddle anymore!!

I have been busy cooking and freezing squash.  I have about 12 quarts in the freezer and lots more still on the vines.  Need to do a search for squash recipes!  

I finished my socks I was knitting and now I need to finish the sleeves on a sweater I started last spring.  I did one sleeve but it seemed too small, so I am "blocking" it to see if it is the correct size once I do that.  Blocking involves wetting the knitted piece and shaping it to size and letting it dry.  We'll see if I need to  re-do it.  Meanwhile I started a pair of mittens from some of my hand-dyed yarn.

So, you have read the sweet part of my post title.  Now for the bitter part, and it is indeed bitter.
You recall Cheetah, our Great Pyrenees livestock guard dog, wanna-be lap dog, lover of children, gentle giant, from a previous post.  I took him in to the vet Friday to have a suspicious lump on his leg looked at and he has been diagnosed with bone cancer.  Unfortunately, this is an aggressive cancer and the vet said even if the leg was amputated, the cancer usually goes into the chest and lungs and the dog only gets another 6 to 8 months.  This is not an option.  The ulna, the smaller of the 2 bones in the front leg, is involved and not the radius, which is good.  Right now, I am giving the big guy pain medication 2 or 3 times a day and lots and lots of hugs.  Once he seems to no longer want to guard his girls or seems too painful to do so, we will do what must be done.  Cheetah will be 7 in December. 


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fiber Festival, Crias, and Garage Work

I know, where is Rowdy this week?  He kindly agreed to let the first cria of the fall season have his mascot spot on the blog.  SHE was born Friday, September 10th as I was setting up for the Wild 'n' Wooly Fiber Festival in West Virginia.  Sam discovered her when he went out to do the evening chores.  She had a slow start, as crias born after 4 pm often do, but is racing around the pasture now

Our second cria arrived this morning, Sept 15, early, just like they are supposed to.  Another female and this one is jet black.  So we are off to a good start on the fall birthing season.  I just didn't have time to get a photo of this little one, so next week will have to do.  As I am writing this, Sam just called to say that we are 3 for 3, another of our girls just delivered a female cria!  This is a big deal for us because only once before have we had 3 females crias born within a week and that was 8 years ago.  So now we have had 2 in 1 day!  He says this one is a light fawn color. Her dam, Carmell, had a very difficult delivery last year resulting in her total rejection of the cria, which was her first one.  Keep your fingers crossed that nature and maternal instincts will take over and this mama will realize that this is her baby and will  nurse and take care of her.  I don't feel like bottle feeding!

As mentioned, I attended the West Virginia Wild 'n' Wooly Fiber Festival this past weekend.  This was the first year for this festival and it was put on by the West Virginia Alpaca breeders.  I think very wisely they chose to make it a Fiber Festival instead of just an alpaca festival.  There is great room for growth and attendees can see all kinds of fiber animals, not just alpacas.  
Frankly, when I arrived at the venue I was afraid the weekend might be a waste of time.  The venue was a huge horse arena at WVU's agricultural farm a good 1/2 hour outside Morgantown WV and not on a 4 lane road!    But they must have done a good job of advertising because there was a steady stream of traffic both Saturday and Sunday and I think most of the vendors and participants were pleased with the turnout.  

I took 4 young alpacas with the hope of selling them, and sell them I did.  I was very pleased to come home with an empty trailer Sunday night. They were purchased by a nice woman who already has a few alpacas on her farm and wanted a few more.  I know they went to a good  home.

I also took about 4 pounds of my hand-dyed rovings in beautiful colors and I only brought home 6 oz of it!  My hand-dyed and spun yarns sold well and I sold a couple pairs of mittens.  I only sold 2 oz each of my natural white roving and natural black roving and none of the brown.  So the colors are definitely what I need to concentrate on for future shows.  I even took some of our plentiful acorn squash and sold a few of those.
 Here is my dear friend Charlie from Riverboat Alpaca Ranch in Marietta.  His wife, Ann, is the one who told me about this festival and we all had a nice dinner together Saturday night.

I met some very nice people and made some contacts, one of which is a fiber mill in Virginia. I would like to send them some of my fiber to be made into yarn or roving.  Not sure which yet.  Speaking of which, the yarns I ordered back in late May are going to be ready to pick up early next week so I need to get my loom put together!  I really need something else to do!!

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Sam has completed his picnic pavilion, windmill and outhouse at the pond, and the hay is all in, so he has moved on to the next project, which is our garage floor.  It is gravel and poorly drained and he has been wanting to cement it ever since we moved here.  Now it is finally being done.  As I write.  Here are a couple of before photos and by next week, hopefully all the "stuff" should be back in where it belongs.  One great thing about this project is it forced Sam to do a thorough clean-out of the garage. Yeah, that's HIS job!

There has been very little knitting or spinning time for me the last couple weeks.  Now that Labor Day and this festival are behind me, maybe I can finish the pair of socks I started before I went to California.  Although we do have things planned almost every week for the next 2 months.  Adoption Day at the shelter this Saturday, a Mother Earth News conference type thing in PA the following weekend Sam wants to attend because there are some interesting seminars on things we are interested in, like bee-keepingOctober will bring more festivals and Sam's every-other-year trip to Colorado with his brother to go elk hunting.  I also plan to have some of my high school friends out to the farm in October for an informal reunion after 30+ years.  Before I know it, the holidays will be upon us!  Ack!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fall Is In The Air!

Rowdy is posing with the results of Sam's efforts with his new "toy".  

It seems I begin every posting with a disclaimer of how busy we have been.  I never really noticed before how much we seem to have going on all the time.
We had our big Labor Day weekend party on Saturday.  Of course it involves family members and friends staying around all weekend and on Saturday  we have lots of friends and neighbors over as well.  My unofficial count was 55 people and 7 visiting dogs.  

Here is my aunt, Elaine, with her 2 "grand-dogs"

But the weekend started out with a visit from the vet on Thursday afternoon.  I had 9 alpacas I wanted ultrasounded for confirmation of pregnancy and they all are positive!  That's good news, especially since at least 1 was bred to a young male who had never settled a female before.   I also had the vet draw blood on the 5 crias from this past spring for routine bloodwork and am awaiting the results of that.  I really like this vet who came out.  Unfortunately, for personal reasons, she is leaving the practice and moving elsewhere in the state.  I am sorry to see her go.  This means the vet service I use will be back down to 1 vet, the owner.  Large animal vets have a hard job and really have to love their work.  Ours covers a lot of area (he is an hour from me) and so I dread emergencies, but will do what I can to get my animals to the vet if he cannot get to me. 

Friday was housework and party prep day and Saturday was the party.  We played cornhole and volleyball and I made several trips to the alpaca barn with friends who had not been to our farm before and wanted to meet the alpacas and Cheetah.  We had lots of good food and party guests brought lots more.  I am always afraid I won't have enough food, and then Sam and I end up eating leftovers all week.  Nothing wrong with that!

Sunday is probably my favorite day of the weekend as we all just kind of hang around and eat and drink and enjoy family time.  This year, my aunt was here from Michigan and she has always wanted to shoot a gun, SO while the kids were up at the pond swimming, Sam gave a brief firearms lesson to her and my niece and cousins.

Here is my aunt firing Sam's Glock.  Yes, all our firearms are legal and Sam has had the requisite safety courses.

Poor Cheetah was NOT happy about the noise and we decided we really should have done this farther from the house.

Saturday night we had a fire and the obligatory s'mores, but most of the adults were too full from pulled pork sandwiches and cherry cobbler to indulge.  It seems like we ate all weekend!

On Monday, everyone packs up and leaves.  But while the adults were packing, I took the 3 older kids and 5 dogs on a hike through Wayne National Forest.  This is a hike I do several times a week and it goes up a couple of steep hills and through some very overgrown trails and past a derelict farmhouse and outbuildings.  I figured the kids would like it and they did.  

Once the hike was over, while yet another meal was being prepared, I got out Apache, who you met in an earlier post, so the kids could all go for a ride.  He's such a good ol' boy.  Here he is with my 2 nephews and niece and of course me keeping an eye on things.

It was SO quiet once everyone left!  Recovery time!  But not for long.  I am preparing for the Fiber Festival in West Virginia this weekend, so have been doing some dyeing of roving and yarn and labeling and re-labeling yarn (labels get kind of beat up after a while and need replaced).  I think I dyed about 2 1/2 pounds of roving in 3 different colorways and I dyed 3 skeins of yarn using the same dyes as one of the roving batches.  I  more yarn I could dye, but I just don't have time.  I have tonight and tomorrow to get everything ready and packed in the truck and plan to leave around 3 pm with trailer in tow.  So I also have to make sure I have everything I need for 4 alpacas for the weekend as well.  

Meanwhile, Sam has been busy with his own projects.  He purchased a log-splitter since we are planning to increase our maple syrup production this winter and will be using a wood-fired evaporator instead of our gas grill.  The evaporator will be up at the pond, so he is stacking the split pine we took out of one of our pastures under the picnic pavilion.  Most of the trees we will tap will be in that general vicinity.  I think Sam has wanted a log splitter for some time, but has never had the reason to spend the money on one before.  Nothing like a new power tool!

We are also finally going to cement our garage floor, which is just gravel.  It is a project Sam has wanted to do ever since we moved in, but it is a lot of work.  It is a 3 car garage so it is no small project.  We have been having a lot of problems with rusting of the undersides of our vehicles and we suspect the poor drainage of the gravel floor is the main culprit, so we have decided it is time.

So all this is going on in addition to our daily work on the farm and at the Real Estate office and the Humane Society.  We are once again officially on "cria watch" and some of the soon-to-deliver females have been moved into a small maternity pasture so it is easier to keep an eye on them.  Maybe by next week, I will have new cria photos to share!